How long learning should last depends on the purpose of the learning. The only way to decide that is to answer the fundamental question, "What is the purpose of schooling?"I have to say that these ideas make me a little sad. I'm not going to disagree or step on Roger's Truth for the simple reason that I don't have to walk in his shoes. I haven't had the same experiences---past, present, or future. I'm not sure that the "social contract" evolves in the way described, but that's what makes it so intriguing to think about. What I do want to say is, in my own Pollyannaish way, that I hope that (high) schools are more than just learning to play the game. It may not be the Truth we have, but it's the picture I'd like to work toward.
There is much talk that it is to acquire knowledge ("book learning") that will be used in life. But all high school teachers know in their heart of hearts that this is largely false. By graduation, most of what was learned in the previous four years will have been forgotten. Students have a pretty good idea, too. By the time they reach high school, they have stopped asking, "when will I ever use this?" because they know they won't get a straight answer. Most have decided it doesn't matter. High school has its rules. Play by them, and play well, and you will get a good score. Don't, and you won't.
It is this sense in which high school is a game. But then so is much of life. The great economist Frank H. Knight used to argue that Homo sapiens (wise man) was a poor scientific name for humans. He much preferred Homo ludens (game playing man). Humans, he said, are constantly engaging in competitions. They have an amazing ability to understand "the rules of the game" and to abide by them. It is this, he argued, that keeps us out of a Hobbesian "war of all against all." We refrain from stealing not because there is a policeman on every corner, but because we accept the rule that we shouldn't do it (which is, to a significant extent, because we know others have accepted the rule in relation to us).
I was also thinking about a question that came up during my presentation in Portland a couple of weeks ago. We had been talking about not assigning grade penalties for late or missing work. One of the attendees asked "What do you say to people who claim that we're not preparing kids for college if we don't assign those penalties? Students won't be able to turn things in late in college." My answer is simply that the kids I worked with last year were 15 years old---they were not in college. As such, they made choices that were typical of 15-year olds. A lot of brain growth is happening...lots going in the pre-frontal lobes which impacts decision making. My job is not to treat them as if they were college students. My job is to help them learn to make good choices so that by the time they get to college, they'll be ready for whatever they are asked to do.
I'm also not convinced that No Late Work is true of every college course, but I didn't feel like bringing that up there. There used to be a teacher in one of the junior highs in the area that we high school teachers referred to as the "Pre-AP Nazi." This woman drove her students into the ground, in part because of all these little rules that she claimed were true of high school. For example, she told her kids that they could never use a pencil because that's what high school teachers would expect. She went on and on about this. Was it true? No. Her list of threats was extensive---all in the name of preparing students for high school as she thought it was or perhaps wanted it to be.
So, here we are---educators each with our own Truth...our own motivations and approaches to what the ultimate outcomes of our jobs will be. Whether or not I agree with or like them all isn't terribly important. I actually like the diversity of ideas and models out there. I think it serves students well to see that there is more than one way to view the world---and they can choose from there which version of reality they wish to adopt and shape.